BACKGROUND & AUTHOR’S NOTE
Welcome back to the sixth edition of District Rundown, coming just under three weeks before election day. Our last publication covered the TOSSUP race in Rhode Island’s 2nd district, one of the nation’s few late-breaking House contests. By popular demand, this week’s installment is moving west to the beautiful Centennial State to analyze the brand new 8th district.
In addition to upcoming previews of Indiana’s 1st and New Mexico’s 2nd, Split Ticket readers should be on the lookout for our next House Temperature Checks. To prepare the board of competitive seats for the elimination of all TOSSUPs without overwhelming readers in one fell swoop, separate publications will be released on October 31st and November 7th.
The first will ensure that seats with even the slightest competitive potential are not left off of the board. SAFE DEM to LIKELY DEM shifts, for example, should be considered a precaution against unexpected lighting strikes. There is definitely a precedent for these types of surprises in House election cycles, especially midterms.
While Split Ticket does not want to write-off any districts that flip or end up being closer than foretold, we recognize that misses will happen. Shocking outcomes add visceral excitement to election nights that true observers treasure. After all, forecasting simply wouldn’t be forecasting without a sense of suspense.
That brings us to the second article, scheduled for release the day before the election. This piece will be far more difficult to write than its counterpart because Split Ticket believes in making well-reasoned calls for each TOSSUP race. We plan on whittling down the size of that column beforehand, but there will still be a dozen tough decisions to make.
However the selections turn out, the main goal is the promulgation of articulate, non-partisan election analysis for our readers. In other words, we will do the best with the evidence provided but cannot guarantee anything.
Colorado’s 8th district (Biden +4.6) is easily the most competitive in the Democratic-trending Centennial State. The new seat is a product of decennial reapportionment, which expanded Colorado’s congressional delegation by one to compensate for population growth. Like in other marginal, open House seats (i.e., NC-13, MI-10, NY-19, TX-15) redistricting and the national environment leave the GOP well-positioned to win a close race in the 8th.
Source: Dave’s Redistricting App
Debates over redistricting ethics aside, the newly-drawn 8th is quite balanced on paper. While the district as a whole swung left between the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, predictably excepting some heavily-Hispanic precincts, its partisanship remains a bit deceiving on its own.
Like districts with similar suburban and exurban territory, the 8th is slightly-redder down ballot. In 2020, for example, Republican Senator Cory Gardner received 1.5% more of the vote than President Trump (47.8 vs 46.3%) in the seat; Trump actually carried this turf in 2016, albeit with a mere plurality.
In 2018, Republican candidates Walker Stapleton (Governor) and George Brauchler (Attorney General) also posted good performances in the 8th relative to their statewide margins of loss. That’s why the GOP’s 2022 strategy counts on the fact that the new district sits to the right of Colorado at every level.
Source: Dave’s Redistricting App
With generalities and a little bit of history cleared up, let’s take a look at the 8th district under the hood. On the surface, the seat has two distinct halves*. The first, based in southern Adams County, backed Joe Biden by 16 points and accounts for 63% of the district’s population. The second, made up of Weld County, preferred Trump by 15 but accounts for just 34% of the seat.
That population disparity explains why the 8th is marginally-Democratic, but still within reach for Republicans under the right circumstances. The seat’s overall lean is also regulated by the minority parties in both main counties, each of which attained respectable federal floors of roughly 40% in 2020.
In Adams, for instance, whiter precincts surrounding Brighton along the Weld border are visibly redder than mixed communities with higher average Hispanic populations, and larger populations in general, further south like Commerce City and Thornton.
The situation is similar, though inverted, in northern Weld. There, the Democrats’ primary salvation is the city of Greeley. Though it backed Trump in 2020 thanks to Republican voters in its western half, Hispanic-majority precincts in the east kept Democrats in contention citywide. That modest minority population had more countywide sway than laymen would expect because most of Weld’s vast land tracts are sparsely-populated.
Source: Dave’s Redistricting App
Looking at the ethnic composition of the 8th in more detail, it might surprise some readers that Hispanics make up a higher percentage of the voting population (2020 CVAP) in this seat than in any of Colorado’s other districts.
That 34.5%, along with white liberals in Adams County communities like Westminster, plays a significant role in giving Democrats an ostensible advantage in the 8th. President Trump did make inroads with many Hispanics in this seat, mirroring 2020’s national trends, but key majority-minority precincts remain heavily-Democratic in most cases.
*District 8 technically includes a handful of precincts in neighboring Larimer County, but these collective house only about 17,000 people*
Because the 8th is literally a brand new addition to the nation’s redrawn congressional map, it has no incumbent. That open seat status is always an important distinction, but especially so in midterm cycles when the national environment historically breaks for one party or the other. Why?
Strategic advantages in terms of fundraising and name recognition often allow good incumbents to attract enough crossover support to outrun the top of the ticket. Void of any sitting lawmaker, though, open seat contests are usually more reliant on national conditions than their counterparts.
There are obviously exceptions to this rule when untested congressional candidates have strong local backgrounds of their own, like Allan Fung in Rhode Island’s comfortably-Democratic 2nd district, but it generally holds up when both contenders for a given seat possess equal ability. A good example was the 2018 election in Michigan’s 11th district, a competitive Trump-won seat that broke for Democrat Haley Stevens thanks to the environment.
In the case of the 2022 matchup in Colorado’s 8th, both candidates are well-qualified and benefit from strong local backgrounds in their respective counties. The Republican nominee is Weld County state senator, and former County Commissioner, Barbara Kirkmeyer. Perceived as her party’s top-recruit for the entire cycle, Kirkmeyer dispatched two formidable challengers in the Republican primary.
On the Democratic side, state representative Yadira Caraveo from Thornton represents Adams County and its sizable Hispanic population. While she does not have multi-decade experience in a countywide office like Kirkmeyer, Caraveo’s Hispanic heritage and legislative tenure should appeal to reliable Biden voters of all ethnic stripes.
Turning out the Democratic base in places like Thornton and Westminster will be crucial to dampening Kirkmeyer’s margins in Weld and any bleeding among more moderate whites in Northglenn and Brighton.
When it comes to third party candidates, the Libertarian and Colorado Center parties have both fielded nominees. While both respective parties could draw above-average levels of major-party support, current indications do not suggest either playing spoiler. A high Kirkmeyer plurality, for example, seems like the most probable result of a strong libertarian performance.
Public polls have been relatively-scarce in the 8th district, making discussions of fundamentals much more important. The data available, though, is not exactly good for Caraveo and the Democrats. Two Democratic internals from Global Strategy Group, including one post-Dobbs, showed Kirkmeyer ahead with pluralities. If two in every three undecided voters from the latest survey were to break Republican, the most probable outcome would be a GOP win.
Fundraising in the 8th has been unusual, yet nevertheless interesting. In raw warchest data, Caraveo has outraised her opponent by a 2.4:1 ratio. The Democrat has also enjoyed similarly-comfortable advantages in terms of internal spending and cash-on-hand. To supplement for that obvious deficit, national Republican groups have inundated the 8th with cash throughout the early fall.
According to the latest estimates from OpenSecrets, outside Republican groups have spent roughly $6.7 million opposing Caraveo or directly-supporting Kirkmeyer. That’s almost twice as much as the $3.3 million spent by national Democrats on the other side of the offense. Although Democrats have not triaged the 8th yet, the numbers suggest that big wigs expect a Kirkmeyer victory and might want to shift resources elsewhere in an uphill battle to hold the House or limit Kevin McCarthy’s majority.
BENCHMARKS AND EXPECTATIONS
As any reader can probably divine by now, Split Ticket considers Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer a favorite to win Colorado’s 8th district over Democrat Yadira Caraveo. While we initially moved this seat to LEANS REPUBLICAN after the primary, it ended up at TOSSUP after the Dobbs bump peaked in early September. Current polling averages suggest that the national environment is improving for the GOP, though, and that is particularly bad news for Democrats contesting districts that Biden won by under five points.
It does not matter too much for the 8th district whether the national environment is EVEN or R+3, because either outcome would a significant enough rightward shift from baseline 2020 partisanship to ease Kirkmeyer’s path to victory. That is not to say the race will not be close in three weeks, but simply that Caraveo’s best shot at winning passed one month ago.
Split Ticket will be moving Colorado’s 8th from TOSSUP to LEANS REPUBLICAN now to save space for other ratings in our Temperature Check discussions. This is the type of low-hanging fruit district that Republicans ultimately need to win should they retake the House.